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At least 700 civilians cross to safety in S.Lanka

[Reuters, Thursday, 5 February 2009 08:58 No Comment]

At least 700 civilians fled Sri Lanka’s northern war zone to a government-controlled area on Thursday, the military said, a day after the United Nations said 52 people had been killed by shelling.

Fighting continued as the army has closed in on the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) holding out in a 300-sq km (115-sq mile) slice of jungle in the northeast, aiming to end one of Asia’s longest-running conflicts.

"About 700 civilians had come to a military-controlled area today morning and many more are coming," said military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara.

Some 70,000 people have been killed in the fighting since the conflict began in 1983.

The United Nations said on Wednesday at least 52 people were killed and 80 wounded by shelling in the war zone as the United States and Britain urged a ceasefire in Sri Lanka to evacuate casualties and allow relief into the war zone.

Aid agencies have expressed concern about 250,000 people trapped in Tiger-held areas, but the government says the number is about half that.

The government has urged civilians to enter a "safety zone" it had demarcated and said it will not be responsible for civilians who do not leave rebel-held areas.

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